Effective signaling in foreign policy and warfare is both vital and no simple matter, as every president discovers.
.. In the annals of pinprick strikes, Trump’s Tomahawk attack now stands as the pinprickiest.
.. That strike was undertaken in response to the discovery of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
.. Iraq never again attempted to kill a U.S. president, and, indeed, never supported another terrorist attack against Americans
.. the Russians notified the Syrians, who reportedly moved their most important aircraft elsewhere before the strike. The very next day, Syrian airplanes were once again flying from the base to hit rebel targets.
.. from the perspective of international politics, the fact that the airstrip was in the use the next day was not negligible.
.. This attack possibly even eroded the chemical weapons taboo by convincing any would-be transgressors that the worst they could expect would be the loss of a small number of inessential aircraft after an advance warning—in other words, a slap on the wrist.
The clearest signal of all would have required a serious punitive attack on the regime itself, a step whose legality would be open to question and that would risk a dangerous escalation with Russia.
.. The fact that Trump chose the least aggressive option available suggests that the principal audience for the strikes was not in Damascus or Moscow, but in the United States.
.. So was the strike political kabuki
.. Sean Spicer suggested in a news briefing Monday that there was now open-ended U.S. commitment to intervene to stop the killing of civilians.
.. Rex Tillerson added to the confusion by issuing his own series of conflicting signals.
.. the era of Assad family rule was coming to an end—an assessment at odds with most military analysts’ views
.. H.R. McMaster .. suggested that the administration had embraced the goal of regime change in Syria
.. Nikki Haley won the sweepstakes by enunciating war aims more far-reaching than McMaster’s: It is a U.S. priority, she said, “to get the Iranian influence out” of Syria
.. historic conduit to the Shiite community in Lebanon.
.. Trump’s own rhetoric has both echoed and contradicted Haley, as he said on April 11 that “we’re not going into Syria” after asserting just days before that “we have a vital strategic interest in Syria.”
.. boasts of his unpredictability while showing no ability to think one step ahead.